Inspiring Independent Learners

Happy Independence Day!

As educators, our ultimate goal is to develop independent learners; children who are self-motivated and responsible for their own learning.  To do this, we need to first instill the joy and excitement of learning in each child.

We must make sure that what we teach children is, first of all, developmentally appropriate.  We've all been trained on the developmental stages of children and need to keep that in mind when we are planning our program.  Our plans have to be well thought-out, but not so precise that we don't leave the opportunity to follow the lead of the children.  We might have an amazing lesson planned, but if a kite floats into our playground, we may have to shift the focus to kites for a few days.

We must make sure that what we are trying to teach is relevant and interesting to the children.  Talking to my students about a warm summer rain is pretty difficult because in Northern California, it doesn't rain in the summer.  All of our rain is from about November to March, so it is cool.  Some of the students find it interesting to think about a warm rain, but discussions about puddle-hopping aren't really relevant.  Similarly, we've all met the 4 or 5-year-old child that can tell you everything you ever wanted to know about dinosaurs.  That's because that child has a passion for dinosaurs; he or she WANTS to learn everything about them.  When children have choices about what they learn, they are much more engaged and start to learn that ever-important lesson of taking ownership of their own learning.

Children are active (in case you hadn't noticed!).  Providing them with opportunities for active learning will be much more successful than expecting them to sit back and simply observe what you are teaching them.  Children are also inquisitive by nature, so encouraging them to develop their own ideas, experiment, and even take some "safe" risks will help them to learn to step outside of their comfort zones.  They love to create things and, when we proudly display their work, we can show them that we also value their creation.  (Remember "process, not product".  No canned art work where everyone's looks the same.)

The environment that we create is also very important in instilling the joy of learning in a child.  The physical environment must be safe, so that a child can take those risks.  It must also be appealing so that the child will want to be there and will be intrigued by the materials that we provide.  The outdoor environment must also be appealing and the child needs to have a sufficient amount of time outdoors every day.  Finally, the environment we establish must be emotionally safe, where the child feels safe to explore interests, work with friends, and branch out to try new things.